Is Alcohol Good or Bad for Prostate Health?

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It’s been a long day at work or the weekend has arrived, and you want to kick back, relax and have a few beers or a glass of wine. So what’s the verdict: is alcohol good or bad for prostate health? If you’re thinking to yourself, “Okay, you’re going to tell me to never drink alcohol again, right?” you’re wrong. Let’s take this one drink at a time.

Wine and Prostate Health

Dozens of studies have discussed wine, and specifically a component called resveratrol, and how it may or may not benefit your health, especially cardiovascular health. Much of the research is positive when it comes to downing moderate (remember that word) amounts of vino.

But how does wine fare when it comes to prostate health? A study in the Harvard Men’s Health Watch reported that men (ages 40 to 64) who drank an average of no more than one glass of red wine per day (specifically, four to seven glasses per week) were 52 percent as likely to get a diagnosis of prostate cancer when compared with men who did not drink red wine. When they compared different types of alcoholic beverages, the researchers discovered that red wine provided more benefit than did white.

As for why red wine appeared to benefit the prostate, the authors speculated that resveratrol and other phytonutrients called flavonoids, which are not present in most other types of alcoholic beverages (although beers have some flavonoids), could be a contributing factor, since they have antioxidant properties.

Similarly, another subsequent study looked at data on more than 84,000 men who participated in the California Men’s Health Study and evaluated the effect of red wine, as well as beer, white wine, liquor, and combined alcoholic drink intake, on the risk of prostate cancer. The authors found that “Neither red wine nor total alcohol consumption were associated with prostate cancer risk in this population of moderate drinkers.” Notice the key word is “moderate.” The term “moderate drinking” for men means no more than two alcoholic drinks per day.

Beer and Prostate Health

In a recent review in Nutrients, the authors pointed out that while moderate consumption of wine is associated with various heart benefits and a lower risk of certain cancers, including prostate cancer, beer has some benefits as well. But before you break open a keg, it’s important to note that “moderate” intake applies to beer as well as to wine. As the review states, “Moderate beer consumption has also been associated with these effects [referring to the cardiovascular and cancer benefits related to wine intake], but to a lesser degree,” which is believed to be based on the fact that beer has a lower amount of phytonutrients.

Liquor and Prostate Health

Now for the hard stuff. A Harvard School of Public Health study evaluated self-reported alcohol consumption data from 7,612 Harvard alumni from 1988 through 1993. The researchers examined intake of wine, beer, and liquor, the number of prostate cancer cases reported during the time period (366), and men who did not drink alcohol. They discovered that while drinking wine or beer was not associated with prostate cancer, moderate consumption of liquor was; in fact, a significant 61% to 67% increased risk of prostate cancer.

But hold onto your glass, because nearly a decade later, result of the California Men’s Health Study already mentioned above found something different. Those scientists reported that they “did not observe any association with prostate cancer for beer, white wine, liquor or combined alcoholic beverage intake” among moderate drinkers.

So what’s the take home message? Thus far the evidence appears to be convincing that moderate amounts of wine (especially red wine) and beer provide some benefits for the prostate and your heart. The verdict on liquor is not as clear, so if there’s a choice between a Harvey Wallbanger and a glass of red wine, you might want to choose the latter.

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